Last night Hillary Clinton accepted her nomination for President of the United States at the climax of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. She needed to unite her supporters, trash Trump, and close the Convention on a high. How well did she do, and how did she do it?
Here’s a quick look at the themes and language of her speech.
Theme #1: Unity vs Division
Clinton’s abiding theme was coming together as a nation. Positive and personal words like we, us, our, one, each other, together abound. And she contrasts this with Trump’s negative stance by using words like fear, hate, divide, wall, ban, zero and alone. Almost every reference to Trump is accompanied by a negative phrase or word, casting him as a danger to the nation.
Theme #2: Plans and answers vs No plans, no answers
Clinton lists what she will do in her first 100 days to improve healthcare, education, the economy, housing and jobs, contrasting that with ‘zero solutions or plans’ from Trump. She trashes his ‘America First’ slogan, using alliteration to ask us why he makes ‘suits in Mexico, not Michigan, Trump furniture in Turkey, not Ohio’. She turns ‘Trump’ into an insult.
Language and rhetorical devices
Here are the readability stats on the speech:
You can see she’s gone for simple words in short sentences.
Her ASL (Average Sentence Length) is 12.5 words; this is even lower than the recommended range of 15 to 20.
Her average number of characters per word is 4.4 (quite low, and lower than Trump’s own acceptance speech).
Only 3% of her sentences are in the passive voice. This is good news: the passive voice is writing’s carbon monoxide, the silent killer.
All of which takes her readability (the Flesch Reading Ease score, or FRE) to a soaring 73.1%, well within the realm of plain English, which starts at 60% FRE.
And this means that an average US 6th-grader, or 11-year old, could understand the speech.
As you might expect from a veteran politician and speaker, Clinton also peppered the speech with some classic rhetorical devices (the Greek term’s in italics):
Alliteration (repeating consonant sounds):
“He wants us to fear the future and fear each other.”
“When representatives from 13 unruly colonies met just down the road from here, some wanted to stick with the King. Some wanted to stick it to the king, and go their own way. The revolution hung in the balance.”
“Standing here as my mother’s daughter, and my daughter’s mother…”
Juxtaposition/contrasting pairs (antithesis, underlined):
“My friends, we’ve come to Philadelphia — the birthplace of our nation — because what happened in this city 240 years ago still has something to teach us today.
“We will not build a wall. Instead, we will build an economy…”
“…love trumps hate.”
“Like so much else, I got this from my mother. She never let me back down from any challenge. When I tried to hide from a neighborhood bully, she literally blocked the door. “Go back out there,” she said.
And she was right. You have to stand up to bullies. You have to keep working to make things better, even when the odds are long and the opposition is fierce.
We lost my mother a few years ago. I miss her every day. And I still hear her voice urging me to keep working, keep fighting for right, no matter what.”
Humour, mockery and juxtaposition:
“And Bill, that conversation we started in the law library 45 years ago is still going strong. It’s lasted through good times that filled us with joy, and hard times that tested us. And I’ve even gotten a few words in along the way.”
“Now, you didn’t hear any of this from Donald Trump at his convention. He spoke for 70-odd minutes — and I do mean odd.”
Repetition, esp. repeating a word or phrase at the beginning of a sentence (anaphora):
“If you believe that companies should share profits with their workers, not pad executive bonuses, join us.
If you believe the minimum wage should be a living wage… and no one working full time should have to raise their children in poverty… join us.
If you believe that every man, woman, and child in America has the right to affordable health care…join us.
If you believe that we should say “no” to unfair trade deals… that we should stand up to China… that we should support our steelworkers and autoworkers and home-grown manufacturers…join us.”
The power of three (tricolon):
“Our country needs your ideas, energy and passion.”
“And so my friends, it is with humility, determination and boundless confidence in America’s promise that I accept your nomination for President of the United States.”
Climax (auxesis: the grand finale, full of inflated language and big concepts):
“Let our legacy be about ‘planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.’ That’s why we’re here…not just in this hall, but on this Earth. The Founders showed us that. And so have many others since. They were drawn together by love of country, and the selfless passion to build something better for all who follow. That is the story of America. And we begin a new chapter tonight. Yes, the world is watching what we do. Yes, America’s destiny is ours to choose.”
Readability stats for this blog:
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